The Surprisingly Low Cost of Sustainability: Improving Outcomes By Operating As Normal
Let's face it: healthcare creates a lot of waste. Hospitals throw a lot away. And we're not just talking about the excess medical supplies that are thrown away before they're even used (even though that's a huge problem).
The amount of paper, glass, and non-biodegradable plastic that is discarded as a result of each case is frightening, and the amount that goes from the average healthcare facility to the landfill every year is an almost incomprehensible horror.
Maybe you want to do something to help out of altruism. Maybe you want to improve your sustainability to maintain your viability as a business. Maybe you think this is all a waste of time. What if we told you that you can overcome any objection to improving your sustainability - social and financial; internal and external - with simple economics?
It's cheaper to be more responsible now. And not just because you're securing your business's and community's future.
"There's Too Much To Care About"
The more motivated someone is to help - the more informed a supply chain professional, especially, is about the subject of sustainability - the more paralyzing the wealth of information can be.
The National Law Review confusedly devotes much of its recent sustainable supply chain discussion to human trafficking and modern slavery. While those are undoubtedly both unethical and unsustainable supply chain practices - and we have previously highlighted the prevalence of both, even within the healthcare sphere - the primary concern for anyone involved in healthcare product sourcing and disposal will almost always be environmental.
The greater the distance your medical supplies and equipment travel, the greater the air pollution they generate. The more medical supplies and equipment you dispose of - whether because they were used or because they were opened unnecessarily or because they expired before they could be used - the worse the plastic pollution is.
The key to overcoming this objection is to focus on what's improvable in your specific situation. If you're overseeing procurement, you don't stop procuring altogether. That doesn't help your community. But you can help by sourcing locally when possible, buying in smaller quantities, and throwing away less.
Even these small steps can seem insurmountable, however, when compared with the feverish pace at which everything must be tackled within the healthcare space.
"I Don't Have Time To Care"
It's easy for anyone who's worked in hospitals to get used to the feeling of being rushed. It doesn't matter that Dr. X's favorite catheter isn't the most environmentally responsible, because they need it, and they need it now. It doesn't matter that the more environmentally responsible supplies are less fiscally responsible, because the budget needs balancing, and it needs balancing now. Healthcare moves fast.
The field of medicine in general is plagued with the problem of the present. Here is a failing heart, and it's got to be fixed now, or the person it's keeping alive won't be alive much longer. Some recent, significant steps have been taken toward addressing the social and environmental determinants of health, which will ultimately improve the health of the populations that we're serving.
If a person's economic situation improves and they experience less stress, better access to high-quality foods, and more free time for leisure and exercise, they're less likely to experience that failing heart in the first place. Likewise those who live in less volatile environments are less likely to experience volatile environmental events. It makes sense that someone in Kansas is less likely to be affected by a tidal wave than someone in Florida. It's just as sensible to say that, as the incidence of extreme environmental effects rises across all environments, all people are more likely to experience some kind of extremity wherever they are.
As we've addressed previously, a healthy environment leads to a healthy populace, and the opposite is also true. And - much as a polluting company leads to adverse health outcomes for its local population - healthcare providers that create a massive amount of waste by over-ordering supplies, putting no checks on their carbon footprint, and failing to invest proactively in their community's welfare are creating adverse health outcomes for the people they're meant to serve.
Which is kind of against the spirit of providing healthcare, isn't it? Waste is - first and foremost - doing harm. We're better than that as an industry and a community.
"It Doesn't Matter How Much I Care"
Here's the most difficult objection to overcome. No amount of personal action can change a systemwide problem. It takes concerted effort, and even then, sometimes it's not enough to reverse the damage done. So why bother?
Firstly: because doing something positive will feel positive. Caring is personally gratifying. Being nice is part of what it means to be a human being. It would be astonishing to find anyone who didn't get into the healthcare industry in the first place with that somewhere in mind, even if we lost it in the rush somewhere along the way.
And secondly: because being doing something positive is ultimately beneficial to the bottom line. Specifically where medical supply sourcing is concerned, ordering the exact quantity a facility needs is ultimately cheaper. It makes sense, right? If you're throwing fewer pieces of plastic away, you're spending less to buy them (and then replace them) in the first place.
"So I Care. Now What?"
As soon as the global community took dramatic action to limit travel and normal interaction in 2020, the global environment made a dramatic improvement. Immediately. But it doesn't take a global paradigm shift to make some progress. Here's what you can do right now to begin improving the sustainability of your organization (and the sustainability of life on this planet, which is kind of key to your organization's survival, as well):
- Understand inventory needs.
- Adjust supply order quantities.
- Redistribute supplies between healthcare facilities.
- Buy from the secondary market.
- Evangelize about your success.
We'll be expanding on all of these in a blog in the near future. Make sure you don't miss out by subscribing to our newsletter and following Z5 Inventory on LinkedIn.